Like Andrés, Zakarian, who often invokes his Armenian American heritage, released a statement citing business and personal motivations for bailing on Trump.
“The recent statements surrounding Mexican immigrants by Donald Trump do not in any way align with my personal core values,” Zakarian’s statement reads. “In light of this, I am unable to move forward with a restaurant in the Trump International Hotel, slated to open in Washington, D.C.’s Federal Post Office building. Zakarian Hospitality employs many immigrants from nations all over the world, and I look forward to continuing this business culture in my future restaurants. We are a nation built from immigrants, my family included.”
A spokesman did not immediately respond to questions about the terms of any deal the “Iron Chef” competitor had inked with Trump. But a Trump spokeswoman suggested the move could by costly for the restaurateur. “We know Geoffrey Zakarian very well and this decision has absolutely nothing to do with his ‘core values,'” the spokeswoman said in a statement. “Zakarian is using the distortions by the media of Mr. Trump’s comments in an opportunistic attempt to renege on clear and unequivocal obligations under his lease. Zakarian has put up a non-refundable $490,167 deposit and has fully guaranteed the lease.”
She added that the project was running on time and under budget. “Zakarian’s foolish decision will be his loss and will have no effect on the completion and success of this project,” she said.
On Wednesday, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. threatened to sue Andrés for breaking his lease, suggesting the company would seek 10 years’ worth of unpaid rent, attorney’s fees and other damages.
Last month, Trump provoked controversy when he said of illegal Mexican immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” The defiant GOP candidate has refused to recant, and organizations including NBC, Macy’s and the PGA have severed ties to him.
Despite the cavalier tone of the Trump organisation, the departure of the two celebrity chefs that Trump had secured to fill the marquee spaces in his glitzy Pennsylvania Avenue complex leaves questions about who might step in to replace them. Perhaps a chain restaurant without a single chef who represents the brand? Experts say Trump might need to hang a big ‘Help Wanted’ sign — or offer a potential tenant a sweet deal. “He’s gonna have a tough time,” said one broker.